The school-house door was open, and the classroom was set up as if it was Sunday, and all was ready for the next day’s lessons. Alphabet charts covered the walls, as did the innocent pencil artwork of twenty students. Maria had drawn a donkey, while Pedro had made a lamentable attempt at a house. Chairs were pushed under wooden tables that still sported writing equipment.
It was deathly silent, and sad. The young people had moved away to school in a larger village, thence to the cities. There was no longer a desire to spend one’s days, like their father before, herding wild alpaca and burning dung for warmth, and who could blame them, far from company, technology, medicine and human contact. Later, a wizened local man, age uncertain but definitely advanced, pointed out various objects of dubious interest, and tried to make his words known to us with the aid of hand gestures, but I couldn’t grasp his meaning. Maybe he used a local dialect, or maybe it was his lack of teeth.
The grounds consisted of the school-house, an amenities block, and a small sports field, mown to a crewcut by wandering llamas, pocked with hoof-marks and the occasional dung-nugget. The field was perfectly flat, and dropped off on one side precipitously to the river, no doubt posing a perennial problem for the local soccer players. It was at the periphery of this field that our porters had set up our tents in a thin green line of nylon. I had wisely optioned my own tent: I had no intention of sharing my personal space with a relative stranger.
On the other side, a mountain rose less steeply but with more persistence, blocking the sun from early afternoon, summer and winter alike. The school’s stone amenities block squatted at its foot. I had no reason to be optimistic about the level of comfort these facilities would have provided: I have seen some primitive bogs in my time, and this place had been abandoned for a generation. Even in its prime, it had to do without electricity and running water.
Putting all of that aside, I was getting desperate. As long as the door closed and I could hold my breath, any place short of Chernobyl was alright by me. I grabbed a small packet of un-biodegradable wet wipes from my pack and went to investigate.
Regrettably, this excellent plan was not to come off. The building was boarded up with stout wooden planking buttressed by Inca granite. A rusty padlock completed the package, one which would probably resist a key, even if one could be found. Worse, the potential for relief had now agitated my bowels, who had thought that my pants were about to drop and had prepared themselves for evacuation.
I shut my eyes, grit my teeth and tensed my abdominals harder than a 5 minute plank. I had now been in the camp for full half-hour, and I fully expected the bulk of the trekking party soon to heave into view over the ridgeline. Action was required on an urgent basis.
As anticipated, there were no trees in the vicinity. There was, however, some small hillocks, and a low crouch could nearly hide one from prying eyes. I scoped out a suitable site as best I could without a theodolite, and dropped my strides.
I won’t describe the next 60 seconds. Suffice to say that things happened in a rush, and at the conclusion of that hot minute I was breathless and sweating, but also greatly relieved. It was at that time that I heard voices: those of the slower crew. They had arrived in camp, dropped their luggage, and set out to explore the immediate surrounds.
“Come on, Garry, over here,” I heard a woman say, uncomfortably close to hand. She sounded for all the world like she was only arm’s length away, and me with my strides down.
(Part 3 Next Week – Too many Bruces – Building a Cairn – A Spiritual Moment – The End)